Tidbits: Exploring Easter eggs in the SE ROM

Most ordinary Friday nights for ordinary people consist of relaxing and having a good time to unwind from the week. But 2020 is far from ordinary, and I’m far from an ordinary person.

I spent my Friday night looking at Easter eggs in the ROM of my 1988 Macintosh SE.

Father, mother and great-great-great grandchild? The poor SE is probably feeling left out.

Since getting my 1991 Macintosh Classic up and running, I’ve been trying to find a use for the Macintosh SE. Without any software on double-density disks (except for the 6.0.8 boot floppy) and no internal hard drive, there is next to nothing I can do with the SE except for type stuff in TeachText or use the Control Panel.

That is, until I discovered some Easter eggs hidden in the SE ROM.

The Macintosh, like most other computers of the era (and to this day) utilize a ROM chip to store firmware needed to boot and operate the machine. In the case of the Mac, this ROM not only featured instructions for booting the machine – but features a lot of the tools needed to make your Mac tick. (If you want to learn more about the ROM and its function, Mac GUI has an informative article discussing it.)

The ROM not only featured the required instructions and assets to make your Mac run, but Apple used parts of the ROM for some cool, hidden Easter eggs.

For these Easter eggs, you will need a programmer’s switch. The Classic/C II were the only compact Macs to have the interrupt and reset switches built in to the case. All compact Mac models prior to the Classic required a small plastic accessory consisting of two buttons called a programmer’s switch. This accessory clips onto the side of the Mac and has two rods that reach in to press the buttons on the logic board. The programmer’s switch consists of the reset button (which resets, or restarts, the machine) and the interrupt switch (which enters a debugging mode, which we’ll be using to access the Easter eggs.)

A programmer’s switch is required to access these Easter eggs. Compact Macintosh models prior to the Macintosh Classic require this plastic clip-on accessory to interrupt or restart the computer. (As a word of caution from yours truly who got truly lucky today: remove the programmer’s switch PRIOR to removing the bucket when opening the computer.)

There are two Easter eggs I discovered – one specific to the SE, and the other accessible on any old Macintosh up to and including the SE.

SE Developers

Early models of Macintosh heavily credited their designers. The 128k, 512k/e, Plus and SE all featured the signatures of the original Macintosh 128k inside the bucket. (And, yes, my SE has this.) The Portable, II and some other models also feature similar signatures inside their cases.

An Easter egg in itself: the inside of the bucket on early Macintosh models, from the original 128k to the SE, include the signatures of the designers of the original Macintosh. Steve Jobs (green) and Steve “Woz” Wozniak (blue) also have their spots on the case.

However, the SE features a special Easter egg which lends credit to the designers. In the SE ROM, (dithered) photos of the design team are located at $41D89A. By interrupting the computer and jumping to that address, you see a slideshow consisting of four photos of the SE design team.

To access it on your SE, first make sure you’re not doing anything important as you will need to restart the computer after. Interrupt the computer by pressing the interrupt key on the programmer’s switch. Then enter “G 41D89A.” Pressing enter/return will start the slideshow.

To stop the slideshow, press the reset key to restart the computer.

Me accessing the design team Easter egg on the 1988 Macintosh SE

Over on the 68kMLA forums, a thread was created to name the people pictured.

You can see some of these people make an appearance in the SE/Macintosh II introduction video embedded below, where they discuss the experiences designing the two computers. That portion of the video starts at around the ~21:15 mark.

The Macintosh SE/Macintosh II introduction ceremony. You can hear some of the SE/II designers speak around the 21:15 mark.

I found this Easter egg from the April 1990 edition of the Apple User’s Group Connection.

“Stolen From Apple!”

Computer cloning was a serious issue in the 1980s, as Taiwanese and smaller companies wanted a piece of the pie by copying existing designs from large companies like IBM and Apple. Similar to the IBM-PC (but not to the same extent), the Apple II was cloned and sold at cheaper prices with off-the-shelf components. Of these clones, the Franklin Ace series was perhaps the most well-known due to the court case Apple waged against them.

Steve Jobs and Apple wanted to prevent a similar thing happening to the Macintosh. Thus, in ROM, Apple developed a “Stolen From Apple” logo that could be called up – exposing whether the ROM was a direct copy from Apple’s or not.

This “Easter egg” can be accessed on any early Macintosh – from the 128k (and even prototypes) to the SE. I’m not sure if the SE/30 has this in ROM. I tried to access this on the 1991 Classic, but even just pressing the interrupt key locked up the computer and caused it to act funny until I did a hard reboot.

However, the ROM address locations for this Easter egg change between models. The Mac GUI article I mentioned early on in this article lists the addresses for this Easter egg in the 128k, 512k/512ke/Plus and SE ROM. For the SE, it’s located at $4188A4.

“Stolen from Apple Computer.” This Easter egg reveals the special Apple menu that was designed to deter ROM thieves and clones, and be used as easy legal proof that the ROM was illegally copied.

You don’t even need a vintage Mac to discover this Easter egg. It also works in Mini vMac, which emulates a Macintosh Plus. The ROM location is different ($40E118 in the 512k/512ke/Plus ROM) but it still works.

The same “Stolen from Apple Computer” Apple menu, in Mini vMac. Notice the addresses are different from the SE and Plus.

You may be wondering if the Macintosh was ever cloned, at least before Michael Spindler opened System 7 up to clones in the 1990s. Yes, it happened. And, yes, Apple “won” that case.

The Unitron 512 is the best known early Mac clone, being a clone of the Macintosh 512k. The story of that machine, and the legal threats Apple hurled at the Brazilian government over it, makes a very interesting read.

As for the SE, I’m likely going to have to wait until I can get my hands on a FloppyEmu to play with some software on it. I tried to network the Classic and SE using AppleTalk (the SE came with an Apple serial cable) but I had no luck. Apparently I’ll need additional software or System 7 on one computer to get file sharing to work, which can’t even happen anyways until I do get a FloppyEmu.